10 Tips for Video Post Production

January 23, 2013

The following is a guest post by  Alastair Humphreys. Alastair Humphreys  is a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, and one of our volunteer judges for the contest. He  has written books for adults and children about his 4-year ride 'round the world. Adventure Cycling readers can download, for free, Alastair's latest book for Kindle

I have spent a lot of time trying to improve my photography and filming skills. Filming something well is almost identical to taking a good photograph. The same principles apply. Learn how your camera works. Give some thought to how to take a good photograph or video clip. If you don't do that then even the geekiest post-production expert will not be able to create a masterpiece for you.

So I try to film things right the first time rather than relying on computer wizardry. Equally as important is to give thought to the story you are trying to tell before you film anything. Obviously this is difficult when you do not necessarily know what adventures are going to unfold. But try your best to visualise what shots you want to capture. There are few things more frustrating than to begin editing your film and realise in a flash that you forgot to film x, y, and z.

Having said that, be careful not to shoot too much either. When I first began filming my adventures, I definitely shot too much. This makes editing phenomenally time consuming. In extremes, the quantity of footage you have to edit can even crush your spirit to the point where you never get round to editing your story. On my first microadventure (walking a lap of the M25) I shot 24 hours of footage in just one week! Even though I knew it would make a wonderful short film, I have never summoned the resolve to sit down and begin wading through all that footage. This is an article about post production. But I have deliberately not yet mentioned anything about post production. That is because it is not important! That's not true. It is vitally important. But it is not the most important aspect of film making.

Here, one last time, are the two most important things to remember:

  1. Shoot good footage and make sure to get good quality audio too. It's more important than you imagine.
  2. Think carefully to make sure you shoot all that you need to shoot (but not too much).

And so, on to the post-production side of your travel video. I must stipulate here that I am not an expert at all. If you need advanced or technical advice, I am afraid I cannot help you. But if you are bit of a technological idiot then I might give you hope. For I have produced all my videos knowing very little about what I am doing! I have, for example, never colour graded a video, preferring to get the colour right, first time, in the camera. I appreciate that colour grading and advanced editing would improve the end result, but I have neither the time nor inclination to spend even more time hunched over my laptop.

I produced my early videos (such as the one below) with iMovie which came free with my computer.

An Expedition Across Iceland from Alastair Humphreys on Vimeo.

I now use Final Cut Express, though I do so with my old laptop beside me so that I can ask Google question after question as I try to teach myself how to use it. In other words, I am not an expert, but I am still able to vastly improve my films through careful post production.

Here then are a few editing tips:

  1. Tell a story. Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They have a point and a message. So should your film.
  2. Kill Your Darlings. Time is short. Attention spans are shorter, particularly with online content. Less is more. Do I really need to watch 20 minutes of you cycling down a big hill? So “kill your darlings.” Cut away everything but the essentials. Show me only what I want / need to see. Only include the most important clips. Be ruthless. Less is more.
  3. Pieces to camera (you looking at the camera and speaking) are important and powerful. But they can be boring if they are too long or frequent. Learn how to extract the audio from the clip and place it on top of other video clips. I don't want to watch you staring intently into my eyes for two minutes whilst you tell me about your recent escape from a bear. Show me the bear instead (if you ever get chased by a bear, make sure you film it!) and add the audio over the top.
  4. Keep your clips short. My rough rule is 3 seconds per clip. Don’t go above 7 unless you have a good reason to do so. Varying the clip lengths will change the mood of your film. Think about the effect you want to create.
  5. Include details. If you're cooking a meal show a close up of stirring the pot. If a big truck is roaring in the background whilst you explain something of critical importance (i.e. that cannot be re-recorded once the noisy truck has gone), then show me the truck too. Contextualise everything.
  6. Vary your shots. A scene should generally include a wide shot, a medium shot, and a detail shot. This might mean you have to cycle past the camera several times to capture the clips you need.
  7. Music can be powerful. Absence of music can be powerful. Think carefully before you decide. Pick music that will resonate with other people, not just your favourite song. Be sure to use Creative Commons licensed music (e.g. www.mobygratis.com/film-music.html).
  8. Keep it short! If you don't need 10 points to your list, leave it at 8. If you halve the length of your film it will almost certainly create more of an impact on your audience.

Good luck!

Photo courtesy of Alastair Humphreys via Flickr


ALASTAIR HUMPHREYS is an adventurer, blogger, author, motivational speaker, film maker and photographer. Learn more about him and his adventures on his website: www.alastairhumphreys.com.


Derek Dewitt February 12, 2019, 6:48 AM

I want to finish a short film I've been working on this summer so thanks for these tips. I like your point about contextualizing everything with the right sounds and images. I'll keep this in mind so nothing feels "fake" and the sound and video always sync up. https://whiteblu5h.com/category/videos/

Easton Memmott August 31, 2018, 9:04 AM

I liked your tip to use the right music because music can be powerful. I am needing to find the right music for my video. I will be sure to remember how powerful music is.

Cristian July 3, 2017, 1:41 PM

Man, your Iceland video got me pumped up. Love your personality and attitude bro. Amazing scenery as well. Oh, and these video editing tips do come it handy as well. Totallly agree with all of them.

Sergio Freddson April 22, 2015, 3:15 PM

You're right: post production is important but production is equally important. It's crucial not to neglect the basics when you're on site. There's nothing like missing an intended shot--that makes for a bad day! Thanks for sharing your tips with us!

Muhammad Amir February 19, 2013, 2:28 PM

In extremes, the quantity of video production (http://www.puremotionproductions.co.uk) footage you have to edit can even crush your spirit to the point where you never get round to editing your story.

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